"The life-changing message of 'On Writing Well' is: simplify your language and thereby find your humanity." William Zinsser, journalist and nonfiction writer, passed away earlier this month. His book, "On Writing Well," is one of the definitive works on the craft of writing. [more inside]
Frank Norris and the Invention of Film Editing: "At the heart of American author Frank Norris’ gritty turn-of-the-century fiction lies an essential engagement with the everyday shock and violence of modernity. Henry Giardina explores how this focus, combined with his unique approach to storytelling, helped to pave the way for a truly filmic style."
Experimental Writing Seminar: Constraints & Collaborations. In addition to setting out a few dozen writing exercises, the online syllabus for an introductory course taught by Charles Bernstein (poet and co-editor of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E) links to a variety of poems, poetry generators, and prose experiments on the web. [more inside]
A writer, a hermit, and Oreo cookies: The strange and sad tale of Cole Waddell's first magazine story
The story: Penny Loafers and Alligator Belts by Cole Waddell
The story: Penny Loafers and Alligator Belts by Cole Waddell
"I had Dave’s voice all analyzed and figured out, because not only did I live with him, but I was preoccupied with creating a show that would please him. Nowadays we call that sort of thing “co-dependence.” But in those days I simply called it “being head writer.”.Mike Sacks' [previously] extended interview with Late Night‘s original head writer, Merrill Markoe.
Seb Lester is an astonishing calligrapher and graphic designer. In this clip, he freehands a number of famous logos... [more inside]
Ruth Rendell, crime writer, dies aged 85. [The Guardian]
Ruth Rendell, one of Britain’s best-loved authors, who delighted fans for decades with her dark, intricately plotted crime novels, has died at the age of 85, her publisher has announced.[more inside]
What's it like to be one of the Jeopardy! clue writers? The A.V. Club interviews Billy Wisse, who has worked at Jeopardy! as researcher, proofreader, and writer since 1990, and as head writer since 2011.
Short stories. Crime. Hardboiled. Noir. Something like that. 700 words maximum. Make it tight. Make it hum
The Women I Pretend to Be, by novelist and game writer Naomi Alderman (previously):
No one in tech has ever been as sexist toward me as teachers and rabbis before I was 12 years old. But I've come to notice more and more how working within the particular masculine sexism of the tech industry has nudged the way I present myself, just a little. I've noticed how, very slowly, I've started to acquiesce into playing roles that get assigned to me. I've noticed how I disappear behind these masks.
What follows is not a horror story. It's a series of moments.
Falling short: seven writers reflect on failure is a collection of seven short essays on failure by writers Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Anne Enright, Howard Jacobson, Will Self and Lionel Shriver. These range from the meditative to the funny. Essays reflecting on literary failure are legion, but let me point you towards a couple more, the brief Failure Is Our Muse by Stephen Marche and the longer Fail Better by Zadie Smith.
[E]ven though the restaurant's cartoonish decor bordered on offensive, it was still a temple to a people and a cuisine that America couldn't ignore. Taco Bells were everywhere. In every strip mall. Off every highway exit. Even the racists, the immigrant-haters, the people who'd laugh at my elementary-school stand-up comedy routine would run for the border.John DeVore writes about finding the "unexpected, self-affirming solace" of home... at Taco Bell. [more inside]
You can laugh or sneer at Taco Bell. Shake your head at its high fat and salt content. Go ahead and lecture on what true Mexican food is. My mom would probably just roll her eyes at you, and take a broken yellow shard of crispy taco shell and use it to scoop up the pintos, cheese, and salsa.
"It’s hard not to hear cultural ruin, melodramatic as that may be, in every interrupting chirp and chime of a phone receiving a text or a call or blasting a video through its speakers on a packed subway train. The citizen in me, greedy for chances at quiet reflection and, frankly, to be left in peace from unwelcome noises, shudders and laments. But the artist in me, the writer, asks a more probing question, if not necessarily more optimistic: what might I do with all this?" Novelist Steve Himmer explores how to write about our increasingly interconnected world in "Reader, I Muted Him: The Narrative Possibilities of Networked Life."
Javier Grillo-Marxuach [prev: 1 2 3], a writer on the first two seasons of Lost [prev: 1 2 3 4], attempts to answer the question “Did we know what we were doing, or were we just making it up as we went along?” Much like the TV series itself, the answer turns out to be much more complicated than it seems. [A 17,000-word memoir].
Rise of the Gender Novel: Too often, trans characters are written as tortured heroes. We’re more complex than that
Founded by celebrated poet and White House guest Kenneth Goldsmith, Ubuweb for years has been housing massive gigabites of work that exists outside the lines—from audio archives of rare performances by avant-garde musicians and video artists, known and unknown, to whole lifetimes of textual and interpretative work dug up and given new life online. -- Vice on how Ubu Publishes the Unpublishable. [more inside]
The death of writing – if James Joyce were alive today he’d be working for Google: [Guardian Books]
There’s hardly an instant of our lives that isn’t electronically documented. These days, it is software that maps our new experiences, our values and beliefs. How should a writer respond? Tom McCarthy on fiction in the age of data saturation.
"What the hell is 'Wild Animus'? It's a book with a story big enough that I could write an entire column about it without describing a single plot point. With the exception of religious texts, has anyone, ever, given away this many copies of a book in physical form?" [more inside]
Friends often try to assure me that people mean well, urging me to go easy on them, to be gracious, to give people the benefit of the doubt. "People don't mean to be offensive," they tell me. "They just don't know how to say it without coming across that way."Nishta Mehra writes about her family's experience with learning how to navigate the landscape of interracial adoption in a "post-racial" America: Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair.
What these friends don't understand is that when the act of defining your family structure becomes an expected part of every day of your entire life, you grow tired of being gracious. It's exhausting to have strangers view your life as an up-for-grabs educational experience. For my kid, it's to constantly hear the underlying message: "Your life, your family, doesn't make sense to me. Someone needs to explain it to me. You owe me an explanation."
It's the people who live comfortably inside majorities who tend to discount any sort of commentary from minorities as being "overly sensitive." And I imagine that it's hard to step back and grasp the fact that when the world you occupy is built to accommodate you, you fit inside the boxes. You make sense. You are expected.
Did Amazon Sink the Queen of Online Erotica? - Phoebe Reilly, Vulture
"Engler is an underappreciated pioneer, a self-proclaimed feminist in furry-cat slippers. To put her crowning achievement demurely, she challenged the book-publishing industry's denial of women's appetite for sexually explicit books. She wrote tawdry, lowbrow novels, and published hundreds of others, that freed romance from its lame euphemisms well before Fifty Shades of Grey, and she did so in a digital format long before the Kindle and the iPad allowed e-books to flourish.
"To put it less demurely: There were readers out there, lots of them, who didn't want to read about thick manroots. They wanted hard cocks. So that's what Ellora's Cave gave them. Easily and often."
"The world exists. Why recreate it?" Adelle Waldman explains why.
The Sneeze column, Steve, Don't Eat It! Although most of this material was written in the early 2000's, I'm surprised when I talk about it and people look at me like I'm crazy. The Sneeze was an ambitious and funny blog full of insights about life, parenting, humor and also had solid reporting on gross food items that are still available in grocery stores. Steve ate weird and gross stuff so we don't have to.
The Struggle To Be A Good Critic [Electric Literature] How should or shouldn't white writers write POC characters?
Don't Judge A Book By Its Author by Aminatta Forna [The Guardian]
‘I have never met a writer who wishes to be described as a female writer, gay writer, black writer, Asian writer or African writer’ … Aminatta Forna on her frustration at the book world’s obsession with labels and identity.
Letter from Ernest Hemingway’s widow could solve Cuban farmhouse mystery. [The Guardian]
The mystery of whether Ernest Hemingway’s widow volunteered or was coerced into leaving their Cuban house to the nation has come a step closer to being solved, with the discovery of a letter in which she states that her late husband “would be pleased” that Finca Vigía be “given to the people of Cuba … as a centre for opportunities for wider education and research”.[more inside]
I know you may not care, but I do. I care about how to tell a personal story like the one I’m about to write, without falling into a million traps laid out in front of you. I’m thinking of the issues of trust and betrayal that come across between a writer and his or her subject. The transfiguration that inevitably takes place in writing. And my friendship with Philip Roth: in which trust was the fundamental condition, despite ambiguity playing a subtler, if ever-present, role.
When Annie Dillard wrote Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, she didn't think anyone would want to read a memoir by a "Virginia housewife". So she left her domestic life out of the book - and turned her surroundings into a wilderness. The Thoreau of the Suburbs.
“Sponsored” by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from.
Wild Ones Live is an arresting reading accompanied by music, a collaboration performed as part of a live magazine by author Jon Mooallem, a science and nature writer whose book Wild Ones ruminates on the strange, ignorant, hopeful and poignant ways humans imagine other animals, and the musical project Black Prairie. Listen at your desk if you must, but if you can, pop in your earbuds and go outside for a long walk while you take it all in. [more inside]
recently on Aeon: not only do stories shape our thought processes in many ways similar to lived experience, they may also strengthen empathy as readers map the narratives of authors.
"I want first to thank you, watching/reading you advocate is an inspiration. I hope to one day be as articulate and hard-working as you. If you're able, could you point me to some favorite writings on privilege/intersectionality/feminism? I'm interested to see what's inspired/informed you. Thank you!" Writer, feminist (and crafter) Ijeoma Oluo provides ten solid links to educational resources online (caveat: she does state, though, that these links barely scratch the surface.) [more inside]
On Not Remembering.
For me, dwelling on the past has become a habit of mind. Even more than that, it’s become the material of my work. My drive to make art out of the miserable, the glorious, the confusing material of my past, seems deeply embedded in my creative DNA. If I were a different kind of writer, my past might become merely the trace elements underlying my fiction; if I were a different kind of writer, I could have the multiple “I”s of the lyric poet without being held to any one of them as the absolute autobiographical truth. Instead, I seem condemned to the limited material of my own past.
The Best American Essays of 2014 Many of the essays are behind paywalls, or subject to monthly article limits. I've linked to those as well because some of you have access through work, school, or subscription. [more inside]
Andre Aciman, professor of comparative literature at CUNY, on writing, his work, and inspirations (SLYT).
Leviathan - a short story by David Sedaris
"Perhaps shipping also reflects the yearning for a small moment of control in a chaotic world. Children often react to their inherent powerlessness by retreating to the wide-open spaces of their imagination. They make their dolls kiss (or fight), and feel a sense of control that they lack in the real world. As fans, people may not be the author of the fictional worlds they love to inhabit, but when they ship, they can momentarily grab the wheel in the most exhilarating of ways — envisioning and championing relationships that demonstrate their own mastery of a created universe, and their true feelings about how love should exist in that world, if not indeed in their own." [via mefi projects; single-page format]
Bret Victor talks about media, abstraction, and the richness (and neglect) of human experience (slvimeo) [more inside]
Neil Gaiman talks about writing "Good Omens" - "Terry Pratchett and I met in February 1985, in a Chinese restaurant. I was a young journalist. He was a former journalist and Electricity Board PR, and a writer who had just published his second Discworld novel. I was the first journalist who had ever interviewed him."
Contributors to The Toast are paid a flat, one-time fee of $50 on publication. No further compensation is due, even if The Toast re-publishes the contribution. The Toast also reserves the right to edit at will.MeFi favourite The Toast came under fire on Tuesday, as according to Writer Beware, it turned out they paid their contributors a flat $50 fee for all rights in perpetuity. This is not surprising behaviour for an internet content farm, but what may be surprising was the resolution. [more inside]
These aren't ideal provisions, but they're not uncommon. What is uncommon: contributors must hand over copyright and waive all moral rights (including the right of attribution).
The 2014 Black List Has been announced - the top unproduced scripts of the year, according to Hollywood insiders. Excited film buffs will be scouring the list for overlooked gems and masterpieces that might have been, but why not go a different route? The Ten Worst Sounding Black List Scripts.
Writing is a strange and solitary activity. There are dispiriting times when you start working on the first few pages of a novel. Every day, you have the feeling you are on the wrong track. This creates a strong urge to go back and follow a different path. It is important not to give in to this urge, but to keep going. It is a little like driving a car at night, in winter, on ice, with zero visibility. You have no choice, you cannot go into reverse, you must keep going forward while telling yourself that all will be well when the road becomes more stable and the fog lifts.—From Patrick Modiano's lecture when receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature [Original French, Swedish and video] which is about cities, old telephone directories but mostly about writing, how to do it and what it's like.
Seeing ‘the Man Who Fell To Earth’ Was One Of The Greatest Experiences Of Philip K. Dick’s Life - The time PKD got really into David Bowie.
The act of pen-palling mirrors the mindset shift that will be necessary to rethink how our society "does justice" on a much larger scale. My conversations, correspondences, and relationships with prison-torn families have taught me that separation breeds more separation, that the coldness and isolation of prison breed the coldness and isolation of violence. And I think about how the one-on-one relationship, in which the prisoner emerges as a person (with thoughts, a personality, a history, hopes, dreams, nightmares), might serve as a model for the beginnings of a person-based, connection-based justice system.The Radical Power of a Prison Pen Pal, a longform essay by Maya Schenwar, Editor-in-Chief of Truthout and author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better. [more inside]